“A dysfunctional ethnic and tribal brawl has been the norm in Afghanistan for centuries. Afghanistan is a mess. ” Who said that? A frustrated U.S. military officer? No, a professor of anthropology, Robert L. Moore.
In his article Tribes, Corruption Ail Afghanistan in The Ledger he shares his concerns about the difficulties for “us” (=the U.S. military) to “push this contentious country into the 21st century” and turn it into a “normal, stable country” that will be “governable in the way that most nations are".
His main point: Afghanistan is an ethnic and religious mess:
Afghanistan is a mess. It is populated by a multitude of ethnic groups, the dominant ones being Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Turkic. Many of these groups are further subdivided into traditional tribes whose members regard loyalty to their tribe or clan as more vital than loyalty to any nation or government. Alongside these tribal and ethnic divisions are religious differences that separate Shi’a from Sunni Muslims. The upshot of all this is that Afghanistan is not governable in the way that most nations are.
“In this harsh landscape", he continues, “our efforts to “stabilize” Afghanistan cannot bring about rapid dramatic change":
There are areas of Afghanistan, mainly non-Pashtun regions, where the Taliban are deeply distrusted and in these areas our troops might be welcomed. But would our fighting on behalf of, say, Tajiks (who, by the way, are ethnic cousins of Iran’s Persians) help solve Afghanistan’s long-standing problem of ethnic conflict? It is more likely to simply add another dimension to the dysfunctional ethnic and tribal brawl that has been the norm in Afghanistan for centuries.
Ethnic mess – apartheid as ideal? U.S-military="us". “Anthropology= serve those in power” - Sounds like 19th century colonial anthropology!
Over at Zero Anthropology, Maximilian Forte gives an overview over European press coverage of U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System and its embedding of civilian social scientists in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Arctic Monkeys @ Explanda del Estadio Azteca. Photo: monophonic.grrrl / Mariel A. M., flickr
“Ask the indie professor” is the name of a new series in the Guardian. The indie professor in question is Wendy Fonarow. At a music festival she was recently introduced as “the world’s only professor of indie music”.
“I’m not sure if I’m the only indie professor, but I’ve spent the last 18 years recording, examining and writing about the culture of indie and the international music industry”, Wendy Fonorow writes in her opening post. Her book “Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music” tackles questions such as “Why are drummers the most ridiculed band members?”, she adds.
The readers of this new series are invited to ask questions. “So if you are curious about why cassettes are the new vinyl, or whatever else takes your fancy, here is your chance to ask”, she writes. “And please someone ask me about why Americans think they invented indie.”
After one day, there are already more than 250 comments.
The Guardian presented her book two years ago.
Here is what she according to the Guardian writes about indie culture and religion:
“Religious narratives show up in all expressive forms, from politics to music. I see a lot of the religious narrative of Puritanism in the indie music scene; the idea that, to have the pure divine experience, it has to be direct and unmediated. So the smaller and more intimate a show is, the ‘truer’ fans believe their experience was, compared to someone who saw them later on in a bigger venue. That’s why so many people claim to have seen the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club. You can also find the aesthetic of Puritanism in the way indie people present themselves, such as childlike clothing, this idea of returning to the golden age of childhood or the musical past.”
Or here about music as ethnicity:
One of my ex-students once said ‘music is my ethnicity’. People want to find other people who are like-minded so instead of finding their ethnic identity through birth they find it through aesthetic preferences and that becomes their identity. For each one of those music movements, there are modes of display. Desmond Morris talked about how different earrings can signify where you are in the age grade of certain tribes in central Africa. To outsiders these displays are subtle or hard to notice at all.”
Interesting! But it seems the anthropologist is extremely fond of theory and might tend to over-analyse her informants. Here is how the Guardian begins the presentation:
Remember that time you were crowd surfing at an Arctic Monkeys gig and thought you were just having a drunken laugh? Rubbish! You were, in fact, being “collaborative in a unique social space, expressing super-intimacy with strangers and rejecting the self-aggrandising that comes with stage-diving”. Oh yes you were. And that time you were standing at the bar and thought you were just, well, thirsty? Not at all: you were probably just “proving your credentials as an industry professional” or “communicating to others a disinterest in the act”.
These are the theories of professor Wendy Fonarow, anthropologist at UCLA in California and the author of Empire Of Dirt: The Aesthetics And Rituals Of British Indie Music.
Her book has received a lot of positive reviews, while Pichfork reviewer William Bower is less convined by the book and its language. Check also Wendy Fonarow’s website at http://www.indiegoddess.com/
The Rumi Darwaza ("the Turkish Gate") in Lucknow. Foto: Himalayan Trails / Rajesh, flickr
Why are some areas of this world more peaceful than others? In her master’s thesis Networks That Make A Difference, anthropologist Tereza Kuldova explains why the Indian city of Lucknow has remained peaceful throughout its history, even throughout such events as the Partition of India in 1947, and the demolition of Babri mosque in 1992 by Hindu nationalists in Ayodhya, less than 100 km from Lucknow.
“In contrast to the vast majority of studies concerned with communal violence in general and the Hindu-Muslim violence in India in particular, I opt the opposite point of departure, the one of communal peace”, Kuldova writes who is currently PhD fellow at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo and author of several book reviews here at antropologi.info.
The heart of the peaceful nature of Lucknow is according to her “a particular blend of local history and networks of economic dependency which cut across the boundaries of class, caste, religion and locality. These networks are produced by the local embroidery industry, known under the name Chikan. Chikan is a traditional Muslim craft, and traded mostly by Hindu businessmen. In the last two decades there were more and more Muslims among the traders and Hindus among the embroiderers.
Chikan embroidery. Foto: Joey Berzowska, flickr
The Chikan industry gives employment to about 20 percent of the city’s population. It integrates people of different origins – rural, urban, lower class, middle class, men, women, Hindus, Muslims and creates according to her “an incredible network of mutual dependency, obligations and expectations".
Religion is often used by political leaders to polarize people. It is rarely the main source of conflicts. These economic networks of interdependency, writes Tereza Kuldova, neutralize the polarizing strategies of the political leaders and lessen the chances of the occurrence of the communal tension. They lead to the “priority of the processes of togethering” as opposed to the “processes of othering":
The growth of the industry and these networks, especially after 1990s, that is noticeably connected to the emergence and the ideology of the Hindu nationalism, has at the same time prevented the negative effects of this ideology, which have been violently felt in Lucknow’s neighbouring areas. This happened by expanding the cross-cutting networks and by turning a craft, which could have possibly been labelled as a “Muslim” craft, into a “traditionally Indian” craft. Chikan has been turned into embroidery which is worn by both Muslims and Hindus to express their Indianness, sense for tradition and fashion.
Additionally, Lucknow is by its inhabitants imagined as a peaceful and tolerant city, as the city of the Nawabs, rulers who bridged faiths:
Almost all accounts of the oral history that I gathered began like this: “In the times of Nawabs, the arts and architecture flourished, it was the time when a Muslim king danced as Lord Krishna…now where you can see that”. The Nawabs thus became associated with secularism; it is them who made Lucknow a “peaceful, clean and a neat city”
You don’t have to be born in Lucknow to be a Lakhnavi:
This imagination of anything or anyone as “Lakhnavi” goes in result beyond the dichotomy of Muslim vs. Hindu; it is rather about belonging to a particular place, which is populated by “Lakhnavis”, first and foremost.
The most persistent logic of the reasoning of why Lucknow is a peaceful city thus goes (tautologically enough) in the field as follows: “Lucknow is a peaceful city, because it is Lucknow, Lakhnavis do not fight, it has always been like that here and anyone who comes here just has to adopt that culture” (From a conversation with a Hindu businessman, 25.3.08.)
The discourse of the mythical past seems to work hand in hand with the economic structures and the social and economic networks in the city, creating both economic and discursive basis for the establishment of “relaxed” communal relationships.
As consequence of her findings, Tereza Kuldova encourages anthropologists to think rather and in terms of identifications than identities and in terms of networks than dichotomies:
Through the Chikan industry and through Chikan as a commodity, we can learn something about the fluidity of the social systems, about change and continuity, about the importance of the cross-cutting networks, about the discourses which govern the market and people’s choices and last but not least about the experience of modernity in India.
We have even seen that what is usually considered as unchangeable identities, particularly in the Indian context, namely the religious identities, are as mutable as any other. They are identifications, that might be at times stronger, at times weaker and at other times they might be replaced by new ones. People play with these identifications in a similar way as the popular Bollywood cinema does. (…) The concept of identification thus, being much richer, gives us more space to acknowledge the discursive shifts, which occur when the identifications are played out. At the same time as it acknowledges the situational and relational character of identity.
The network approach reminds us of the complexity of the social life and its situations, as well as of the impossibility to divide and classify the flow of social and economic interactions into clear-cut categories. (…)
Anthropology in general and I believe this study in particular, “has the authority and the ability to collapse a number of counterproductive dichotomies: the local and the global, the virtual and the real, the place-bound and the “non-place”, the universal and the particular. In real-life settings such contrasts evaporate” (Eriksen 2003: 15). “The “India”, where the past is inserted into the present and then projected into the future, questions the colonial dichotomies of “India” vs. “West”, “modernity” vs. “tradition”” (Favero 2005:24).
Why more scholarship on war than peace?
- Highlight the connections between people!
How to challenge Us-and-Them thinking? Interview with Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Mahmood Mamdani: “Peace cannot be built on humanitarian intervention”
An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence
Applied anthropology: A wedding ceremony in support of durable solutions in West Timor
Presenting 2nd generation Multi-Sited Ethnography
In the recent issue of Imponderabilia Heid Jerstad criticizes the lack of anthropological research on climate change. Climate change is only present on the margins of anthropological research, Jerstad claims. A similar critique was formulated by Simon Batterbury in his article Anthropology and global warming: the need for environmental engagement.
But several climate anthropologists have been in the news recently. In an interview with the Borneo Post, anthropologist Bob Pokrant addresses climate change in Borneo. To tackle the climate change issue, he proposed using the ‘adaption approach’ instead of the ‘mitigation approach’:
By mitigation, we mean reducing the sources of greenhouse effect. By adaption, we mean recognising that climate change is happening and then work out a programme to reduce the social vulnerability of those affected. We have to empower the people to take the future in their own hands. In countries affected by climate change most, their people’s capacity to adapt must be built up.
Fight global warming ‘with traditional methods’, urged Pietro Laureano. architect, town planer and anthropologist. Traditional water management methods from the Sahara and Ethiopia and Iraq’s Babylon area could be used alongside newer technologies such as solar power to prevent desertification and energy wastage. See also interview with Laureano and his paper Traditional Techniques of Water Management a New Model for a Sustainable Town and Landscape. From the First Water Harvesting Surfaces to Paleolithic Hydraulic Labyrinths.
Environmental anthropologist Kenny Broad was interviewed by Hawaii 24/7. As an anthropologist “his focus is bridging the physical and social aspects of science, specifically the human-environment relationship along coastlines and the impacts of climate change.”
A few weeks ago, Susan Crate’s research on climate change in Siberia was presented. On her website lots of papers can be downloaded, for example the most recent one Bull of Winter? Grappling with the Cultural Implications of and Anthropology’s Role(s) in Global Climate Change (pdf). Together with Marc Nuttall, she edited the book Anthropology and Climate Change. From Encounters to Actions. See also interview with Nuttall on CBC News “Human face of climate change: Weather out of its mind”.
At the University of Copenhagen, anthropologist Kirsten Hastrup is the leader of the interdisciplinary climate change research project Waterworlds. In an interview, she explains the relevance of historical anthropology for today’s climate change.
See also Climate Change and Small Island Developing States: A Critical Review by Ilan Kelman and Jennifer J. West (Ecological and Environmental Anthropology, Vol 5, No 1 (2009)) and Waterworld1: the heritage dimensions of ‘climate change’ in the Pacific by Rosita Henry and William Jeffery as well as information about climate refugees and my earlier post Why Siberian nomads cope so well with climate change. For even more literature see Bibliography for the anthropology of climate change.
Oslo, Saturday afternoon. Several thousands people are watching Germany-Argentina on the big screen. The man opposite to me is wearing the German jersey. He is not German, but Norwegian. He is not the only one who identified with the"others” during the World Cup. Not only teams from the rich “West” are popular. A few days ago, people from all nationalities cheered on Ghana. Norwegian TV2 interviewed fans of the Ivory Coast team in South Africa. Ivory Coast fans came from all over the world, and many of them were neither black nor from the Ivory Coast.
The Football World Cup is often associated with primitive nationalism. Watching the matches in different public viewing places made me wonder: What about seeing the event as an arena of everyday cosmopolitanism, where people engage with the world, identify with teams, people and nations from far away places?
Even German fans of the German team cheer on players with names like Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira. In the German team, 11 of the 23 players were eligible to play for a different country. What effect does this have on notions of Germanness and identifications in general?
But a quick google search revealed that the cosmopolitan aspects of the football world cup do not seem to be a popular research topic. I haven’t found papers that address this topic explicitly - but maybe a closer look at the 90 journal articles that Routledge Journals made free to access until the end of July will nuance the picture?
Or maybe rather not?
“Academic treatments of football have tended to focus either on the game’s capacity to inspire xenophobic hooliganism amongst its followers or how it has been exploited by politicians for nationalistic purposes", writes Peter Hough in one of them called “Make Goals Not War“. There he highlights the mostly ignored positive contributions of international football to international relations. But he is not addressing cosmopolitanism either.
Anthropologist Hans Hognestad shares his view.
“Despite the apparent existence of transnational football fandom there seems to be a reluctance in academe to view this as generative of new identities contesting more traditional ones related to the nation as a privileged frame for structuring and reproducing identities", he writes in the paper Transglobal Scandinavian? Globalization and the contestation of identities in football that is not freely accessible (mostly about club football, though).
Why is this so?
“The lack of understanding of the popular and cultural appeal of sport seems to me linked to the incomprehension about and instinctive dislike of patriotism", argues Sunder Katwala. In a comment to The football world cup is not xenophobic by Robert Sharp, he criticizes the view “that we will (only) have a better world when people do not identity with national identities, but instead only with the brother-and-sisterhood of humanity.” Instead, cosmopolitanism can in his opinion be achieved “through supporting positive and outward-looking national identities which see the value as internationalism as important to “who we are”.
Maybe the World Cup constitutes such an arena for creating these identities?
Khaled Hroub has written a wonderful text about watching the World Cup in Palestinia and Palestinans identifications with other teams
For more texts see the overviews by Erkan Saka, among others http://erkansaka.net/archives/4233 and http://erkansaka.net/archives/4132
There is also a comprehensive overview at GlobalVoices
Or take a look at Steps to an ecology of transnational sports by Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Ambivalent Football. An Ethnographic Approach to Postcolonial Player Migration by Kristian Dyrkorn
UPDATE: Interesting post by anthropologist Martijn de Koning: Orange Fever: Notes on the Worldcup, football, nationalism and Deep Play in the Netherlands
It happened already around 200 years ago: Aboriginal Australians marry Indians. Afghan cameleers open up the interior of Australia for transport and development. Indian seamen fight for Indonesian independence. And long before Australia was colonised by white settlers in 1788, Aboriginees have had longstanding relations with the Indonesian archipelago.
A few weeks ago I met Devleena Ghosh. She is conducting interesting research about the movements of people and ideas in the Indian ocean. We often link transnationalism to today’s world, but Ghosh shows that people have lived globalised lives already several hundred years ago. Australias history consists of more than white settler history.
- It is important to highlight the connections between people, she told me. It is important to challenge the popular belief that migration is something new, that people lived seperated from each other, hating each other. Because that’s not true.
I totally agree with her.
Relationships between South Asians and Australians during the colonial period and earlier have been little investigated. The same can be said of Norwegian history. It was not more than seven years ago, that the first history of immigration was written.
Because of this lack of transnational history writing, the incorrect view of the world as consisting of isolated and self-sustaining societies has been able to dominate the public and scientific discourse. This view has been a fruitful breeding ground for ethnic chauvinism, racism and - in social science - methodological nationalism (pdf).
Devleena Ghosh and her colleagues have published some open access papers:
Devleena Ghosh, Heather Goodall, Lindi Renier Todd: Jumping Ship: Indians, Aborigines and Australians Across the Indian Ocean (Transforming Cultures eJournal, Vol 3, No 1 (2008)
I thought I would have some time left for writing a blog post before I’ll go on a short holiday… but anyway there will be more posts next week! By the way, recently I updated the anthropology blog news feeds at http://www.antropologi.info/feeds/anthropology - it gives you an overview over the most recent posts by anthropology bloggers in English - an alternative to the overview at http://www.antropologi.info/blog/ See you next week!
Days and weeks before the launch of the new book by anthropologist Akbar Ahmed called Journey into America: the Challenge of Islam, it was already reviewed in major Pakistani newspapers. “Usually it is Western anthropologists who study Muslim societies. It is encouraging to see a Muslim scholar returning the compliment by studying American society", Maleeha Lodhi writes in The News.
Accompanied by several researchers, Akbar Ahmed travelled for a year to over 75 cities across the U.S., meeting a diverse array of people and visiting more than a hundred mosques.
After (too?) much research on muslim issues and media focus, it seems that eveything has been said. But his book does not seem to be one of those numerous studies on “the integration of immigrant women". His book is also an ethnography of today’s America.
In an article in the Guardian, the anthropologist writes that he “realised that it was impossible to study Islam in America without studying America itself and its identity.”
This “reinterpretation of the competing influences that have shaped American identity” is, writes, Maleeha Lodhi, “fascinating":
Americans, Ahmed says, need to make a choice between the concept of the country fashioned by its Founding Fathers - universal, pluralist and tolerant - , or the post-9/11 vision “which is aggressive, self-centred and suspicious of, if not hostile to, “the other":
He traces the first and dominant primordial identity to the original white settlers of the 17th century. Fashioned by white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) settlers, this vision of a society based on justice and a rule-bound charter was however exclusionary, meant only for Christians, not Native Americans or those who were forcibly brought from Africa.
From that period also emerges a secondary identity from the pluralist tradition. This foreshadows the vision of the country’s Founding Fathers based on equality between and respect for all citizens, democracy, religious freedom, and rejection of slavery.
Dr Ahmed identifies a third identity with origins in the 17th century. This is the predatory identity which unleashed an aggressive impulse that saw Native Americans as heathens who had to be eliminated. It also justified slavery. This established the notion of zero tolerance: that any threat to society had to be permanently decimated by the full use of force. Compassion was seen as weakness and compromise as defeat.
This identity, Dr Ahmed argues persuasively, asserted itself in the post-9/11 period when America under Bush embarked on two wars and a path that saw it compromising its own laws and ideals and justifying torture and Guantanamo in the name of protecting the nation. The invasion of Iraq, the Patriot Act and secret detention centres were all actions consistent with the old predatory identity.
The book also includes a “thought-provoking comparison” between two founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, writes Rafia Zakaria in The Dawn. “Sadly it seems both Americans and Pakistanis are only too willing to eviscerate the commitments these two founding fathers made towards tolerance and religious pluralism.”
The anthropologist is according to Maleeha Lodhi “just as forthright in identifying the weaknesses and problems in the Muslim diaspora". He distinguishes between three traditions: mystic (Sufism, emphasises universal humanism), modernist (balance modernity with religion) and literalist (Salafis, adhere strictly to tradition) and concludes that “modernist Muslims have provided neither leadership nor a critical mass to change the community, while mistakenly dismissing literalists as being of no consequence.”
In order to “recreate the community’s self-image and extricate it from persistent identification with 9/11 and terrorism", Muslim American leaders need to look to the African American community. he recommends.
According to the reviewers (somehow I have the impression they’re a bit too positive…), this is a well-written book, and Daily Times reviewer Mahjabeen Islam even things it will be the “talk of the town“.
Anthropologist Maximilian Forte continues his analysis of the “predatory” elements of American culture in his recent posts on Zero Anthropology, among others Team USA at the 2010 FIFA World Cup: Motivation Unthinkable without the Military and Militainment: U.S. Military Propaganda in the News Media, Hollywood, and Video Games